How I Spend My Halloween: Josh Malerman

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If you know anything about Cemetery Dance, you know that the arrival of October…The Spooky Season…is a very special time of year for us. To celebrate, we’ve invited some of our favorite spinners of spooky tales to share their favorite Halloween traditions and memories with us.

Today we’re joined by Josh Malerman, author of numerous short stories and novels such as Bird Box and its sequel, Malorie, Unbury Carol, Daphne, and many more. He is also the singer/songwriter of the Detroit rock band The High Strung.

(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)

CEMETERY DANCE: When does the Halloween season begin for you?

JOSH MALERMAN: In a way it’s all year, right? When are people like us not in the spirit? But, I think I start getting into it middle-to-end of September. Maybe the first chill of the year. It can get hot again (for weeks even) but once you’ve felt the first chill, you don’t forget it. It’s with you till next summer. Like the wind goes into your pocket and speaks, says: “Hey, Halloween is coming up.” And it wiggles its eyebrows at you and you’re like, “That’s a good thing. Summer’s end doesn’t have to be sad. Halloween is stopping by…”

What are some Halloween traditions you observe each year?

Well, when my fiancée Allison and I first bought this house (first house either of us ever bought in our lives), we hosted a lecture around Halloween time. The lecturer was John Tenney, a brilliant ghost-hunter, occultist, TV show host, writer, more. It was an amazing night. A lot of friends, booze, grass, and John, delivering an extraordinary talk, complete with a ghost-speaker-box and a hundred fresh insights. So, naturally, Allison and I were like, we’re doing this every year for now on. But then the world shut down for a few years, and here we are now, eyeballing Halloween all over again, and we’re talking about hosting another lecture. And why not Tenney again?

Do you decorate your home? A lot or a little? 

We have a lot of stuff. Not like those homes where every square inch is an animatronic hellion, but still… a lot of stuff. I wish we could decorate the lawn with horror novels, this house is full of them. People could take one as they passed or they could just look at ’em all spread out on the yard. But Michigan Octobers are dicey. I’ve known Halloweens with falling snow and Halloweens where you had to come up with a costume for a t-shirt because it was so hot. So those books would be in danger.

A lot of masks here — some Allison made:

allison's mask
Photo courtesy Josh Malerman.

Do you dress up each year? If so, what’s your favorite costume you’ve worn?

I don’t know if I have a favorite costume I’ve worn, but I def gotta mention when Allison dressed up as me. This is nuts. Check it out:

Allison dressed as Josh Malerman
Photo courtesy of Josh Malerman.

What is your favorite Halloween memory?

As a kid, approaching a house in the neighborhood with a scarecrow on a bench on the front porch and hardly any light and this very real sense that someone was home so why not knock, and this house was kinda between other homes, it was quieter on the walk up the drive, like the music and hollering from other kids in other driveways went away, and just as we knocked on the door, the freakin’ scarecrow stood up. And we ran. And even as we ran, I thought, I wanna do that. Whatever that guy just did to us, I wanna do that to other people, too.

Are there any local (or national) haunts/tours/haunted houses you attend or would like to attend during the Halloween season?

We went to an amazing corn maze near us. The Detroit Zoo has fun stuff. I haven’t been to Erebus, which is a huge multistory place in Pontiac, Michigan. I’ll tell you this: go to Dracula’s Castle In Niagara Falls, get a ticket for the expert level, and tell me if you don’t come close to peeing your pants. Holy shit was that scary.

What stories, books, and movies best encapsulate Halloween for you?

I like when movies are just on, like when a song comes on the radio rather than putting it on. So I’ll have either Shuddder TV or AMC or whatever playing during October and for me it’s more like, “Oh! The Omen is on! Awesome.” Rather than me choosing The Omen. Right? I like to tune in to the channels that play the scary stuff and just see what they play. Feels like I’m part of a bigger experience when I see it on TV or hear it on the radio. That said… I do watch a few Vincent Price movies every year. I just wanna hear his voice around Halloween. Want his voice in the house. I like to watch a couple horror anthology movies in October because what says Halloween better than short horror stories, and a bunch of them in one film?

Since we’re talking about Halloween: what’s your favorite movie in the Halloween franchise?

Hmm. The first and…  Season of the Witch. But, that said, AMC used to run (do they still?) parts 4 and 5 every year and I loved when they came on. Like I was saying above, it was so fun to hear that music, the sound design, those images in the house, on TV, chosen for me, other people watching it, too. You can feel that, I think. Communal viewing. I think my favorite part of the Halloween franchise is the music.

Have you written any fiction or nonfiction involving Halloween?

I’ve got a story about a kid’s birthday and it’s on Halloween and everybody is wearing masks, etc., but this kid and his family, they live in a warmer climate, so it’s nice out, and people are in the lake, and out in the yard, and then this one crazy costume starts calling out to Adam from the yard, a full grown man, buried in his costume, waving, yelling, “Adam! Adam! I’m the monster under your bed!” And nobody knows who this man is, nobody invited him.

Maybe he’s telling the truth.

That’s called “Adam’s Bed” and it was published in Doorbells at Dusk.

What projects are you working on currently, and what are some recent releases of yours you’d like to tell people about?

Thanks for asking. Daphne (Del Rey) came out September 20th. We rented a local high school gymnasium (University High School in Ferndale, Michigan) and did a theatrical reading with props and fog and lights. Allison made a fifteen-foot shot as I was narrating her character making that shot. It was incredible. Daphne the book is about anxiety. And Daphne the woman is a seven-foot denim-clad whiskey and smoke smelling monster who has a thing for basketball players. So the girls on the Samhattan High School basketball team have to contend with this. But Daphne is more panic attack than ghost. More anxiety than ghoul. And the more you think about her, the closer she gets. I’ve been looking for an angle on anxiety for years and Daphne came to me fully formed.

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